VEGAS UNWRAPPED with Aaron Phillips & Ricky Cash


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Enough Already?

Those who know me, those who follow my "Sound Offs" on "Vegas Unwrapped", or on these and other hallowed Blog pages know if nothing else, I rarely hit the panic button nor do I demand change for the sake of change only or because of one incident alone.

It takes a lot to rattle these old bones especially when it comes to making changes in the Mets organization, particularly with the man at the helm, for it has always been my opinion that a manager does just that, manage. He doesn't pitch one pitch, steal one base, or score one run. He is there to use his considerable skills in motivating his players to do their best and on really very few occasions will make a move within a game that can clearly determine it's outcome.

This is a double edge sword for me. I want the Mets to do well, but I know if they don't the days of the Omar and Jerry show will soon be at an end. Yea!

Jerry Manuel clearly is an exception to that rule. He has mismanaged this team almost from the day he inherited it, because the Mets upper management felt they needed a "fall guy" for the collapse of 2007. I just wonder how many Mets fans today are sorry for the events that early June morning in California nearly two years ago.

Without prolonging and justifying for what seems like the 100th time, I have spoken not too kindly about Mr Manuel, I will say that this season is beginning to really drain my patience

I have been a Mets fan since April 12th 1962 and have gone through hell and back with them for the past 48 years. I suffered through the bad and rejoiced through the amazing but I have never for one day lost sight that this team has always been capable of doing so much better than it has done and I have clearly laid the blame at the feet of the ownership with the Wilpon's being right up there with the worst of the worst.

With that said let's get back to Jerry. I'm going to use tonight's game not with 20/20 hindsight because that is the simple way, but to tell you hear and now that I was screaming at the TV long before the incidents happened which definitely cost this team an opportunity to help get back on track which they are pressing so hard to do.

Let's start where it does start and that's the bottom of the sixth inning. The Mets were up 1-0 thanks in part to the fine pitching performance of everybody's favorite whipping boy, ( unless John Maine is pitching that game) Oliver Perez, who held the Cardinals to no runs and four hits in six solid innings on the hill. Having already made Albert Pujols seem almost human for one night while not having to face his latest partner in crime, Matt ( I should have been a Met ) Holliday, Perez held a precarious 1-0 lead.

After giving up a lead off single and a sacrifice bunt Manuel decided he had seen seen enough of Perez despite striking out four and walking three. Perez had reached 97 pitches for the night and I'm not faulting his removal. What I am faulting is Jerry's history of overusing his bullpen and tiring out his pitchers. Lets take Fernando Nieve, who was in competition for the 5th spot in the rotation with Jon Niese. He didn't win the spot but looked liked the ideal long man for the bullpen since he has already been "stretched out" to go more than an inning or perhaps two. The problem is then just how often do you use such a pitcher. The general knowledge from pitching coaches throughout the majors is to use a pitcher like that maybe 2 or possibly but no more than 3 times a week.

This was his 6th appearance in 10 games. Come on. All he did was hit Schumaker and walked Holliday leaving it open for Valdez to come in and give up the granny to Lopez, who just by the way, was available all winter long while we re-committed ourselves to that brilliant power hitter from both sides of the plate Luis Castillo.

That brings me to the ninth where the Mets tried to come back and almost did except their manager is a moron and needs to be taken behind the barn and taught a little game management. Here it is 2 out and Jerry has already made a tremendous blunder by having Angel Pagan pinch run and takes his potent bat out of the lineup. So Pagan is at second and who is standing at the plate with a chance to tie the game? Remember, the outfield is playing a little shallower because they know this "punch and judy" hitter is not going to bust one over their heads. It's none other than the 6 million dollar a season man Luis Castillo.

So you say, what are Jerry's alternatives? He thinks Castillo is the best alternative. Really? One might argue that Alex Cora is no better in that spot. Others might think Homero Blanco would be no better either. I believe either one of them would be better and here's why.

The Mets who did get on in the ninth jumped on Ryan Franklin's first pitch because it was always a fastball in and around the plate. The reason for this was because he was struggling getting his other pitchers over. Castillio's notorious for not swinging at the first pitch regardless of where it is. He hardly ever swings at the second or the third pitches either. He generally waits until he is either behind in the count or has two strikes on him, always. So what does Franklin do? He lays one right down the center of the middle of the plate, a perfectly hittable pitch, perhaps a game tying or game winning pitch to be hit by anyone who swings a bat.

But noooooo, Castillo doesn't take this opportunity to be a winner. He never does and when he gets his obligatory two strike count he weakly grounds a ball to short and is easily thrown out to see another Mets loss put in the books.

The blame here?. Directly on Jerry Manuel,s shoulders, with an assist from Omar Minaya. Those supposedly in the know say nothing will change until at least May 1st. Why? Must the Mets lose eight out of their next ten to make the change?

Do it tonight in the middle of the night. It won't be the first time and Bobby Valentine's Baseball Tonight Show has already been put to bed.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Ray of Hope Springs Eternal

Today, opening day, the optimists ruled. The naysayers out there already have their rebuttals. "You had Santana pitching, you should have won. Now lets see what you've got".

Perhaps they are right. Certainly 2009, nor this most recent spring training has given even the most loyal Mets fans some ill conceived notions that this team will win the NL East going away in a wire to wire race.

Plus the fact, regardless if you win or lose on opening day, whether it's a blow out like today's victory over the Florida Marlins or it's a walk off hit, you are always reminded that this is a 162 game season and there's still plenty of games to be played.

Fortunately the Mets have a pretty solid major league leading winning percentage on opening day despite losing that opener in it's first  eight seasons. They are 32-9 since then and although you would like to believe that would carry through the 162 game schedule, more often than not, it hasn't happened that way for the Mets. 

The obvious pluses, those the optimists expected to see where apparent from the very first inning. Johan Santana put the Marlins down in order. In fact he got the first seven batters out before giving up his first hit. No no hitter today!

You just had to know that David Wright has been counting down the days since last October to this day simply tired of hearing all the negativity about how he's lost his power, how his strike outs had increased, how he lunged at bad pitches and how he just couldn't keep up with a good fastball. The smile that he wore as he rounded the bases after lofting one right down the right field line to put the Mets out in front to an early 2-0 must have his legion of fans in happy tears.

Other expected positives the optimists had believed would happen simply did. Jason Bey, Gary Matthews Jr, and Rod Barajas each collected two hits and Bey's triple inspired us all to think that we can't wait for the return of Jose Reyes who is a triple machine.

Despite leaving 13 runners on base, the Mets did score seven runs on nine hits which means they hit in the clutch today something you couldn't find with a telescope last year.

I loved the play of Gary Matthews Jr in centerfield today as he seem to be roaming the outfield on a team of Wells Fargo stallions. I lost count after the first eight putouts he made while the Marlins center fielder, the much heralded Cameron Maybin, seemed lost out there in the vastness of windy Citi-Field.

What I didn't expect but what I only had hoped for was the brilliance of the Mets bullpen and how they completely shut down the mighty hitting Marlins who are supposed to challenge along with the Braves, the Phillies for the NL East crown.

After Santana who went six solid innings giving up one run on six hits, Jerry Manuel turned to Fernando Nieve who was Jonathan Niese's competition for the fifth slot in the rotation. Nieve who had impressed the Mets management last year when all hell was breaking loose also found his way to the DL and was sidelined for the remainder of the season.

Manuel didn't waste any time to find out what spot Nieve would be in. Last year, despite the injuries, the pitching staff had that major bugaboo of walking a gazillion batters putting themselves in situations that could only lead to disaster. Jerry spoke early and often that this year had to be different or else those who couldn't get those strikes and let the fielders play their game would not be around long enough to matter.

So here's what Nieve did today. Two innings, two hits, two k's, 36 pitches 23 of them strikes. That is very nice. Francisco Rodriguez closed out the ninth with one ground ball and two fly outs on 14 pitches which eight were strikes. Very optimistic results even if it was only Game One.

So now comes the fun. After a day off tomorrow the Mets will throw John Maine at the Marlins on Wednesday night and Jonathan Niese on Thursday. Friday when the Washington Nationals come to town most probably licking their wounds from the pounding the Phillies put on them today and will probably continue, they will hope to get well against Mike Pelfrey and Ollie Perez before having to face Johan Santana on Sunday with a healthy and ready Jose Reyes in  the starting lineup.

By the way, I was surprised and delighted to see Alex Cora make a terrific play on a ball hit in the hole today. He's certainly no Reyes and not even as defensively sound as a Reuben Tejada but it was sparkling nevertheless.

OK then optomists, today we had our day in the sun and have the next 36 hours to bask in our victory, but beware there are those so called "Mets Realists" that are just waiting and lurking out there to try to ruin our fun. Well, you just never know, they may be waiting a long time in 2010 and may have to get some very heavy wash cloths, because from what I understand egg is very very very difficult to clean off your face.

Lets Go 1-0 Mets!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

On a Brighter Note

We are now a weekend away from the start of the 2010 Major League Baseball Season and New York Mets fans all over the planet are pulling out their remaining hair and saying to anyone who will listen "Oh no, here we go again"..

Well not so fast. True the season will start with a 1/3rd of their starting team on the Disabled List but unlike last year when more than half the starters seemed to be out most of the year, this year the Mets are prepared for injuries and the substitutes they put out on the field will not resemble the 2009 version of "The
Little Sisters of the Poor"..

If Spring Training has shown Mets fans anything other than thank goodness it's over,is the fact that the players down on the farm are hardly as bad as the media has depicted them to be. Players like Ike Davis, Fernando Martinez, Josh Thole, Jenrry Mejia, Nick Evans and Rueben Tejada, to just name a few, have given Mets fans an opportunity to see a brighter future even if they may struggle in 2010.

There's more. Chris Carter and Frank Catalanotto are certified Major League quality bench players who are fighting for the final spot on the roster. Further down the farm sits Brian Holt, Wilmer Florez, Reese Havens, ( I almost said Richie) and Scott Bowman.

Yes, the starting pitchers have had a rough spring but if you have followed Spring Training statistics for as long as I have you would know not to take them too seriously.

For my younger readers I'll give a prime example that you can relate to. Just as recently as last spring, 2009, a young pitcher for the Kansas City Royals was getting his ass handed to him prior to the opening of the season. In about six or it might have been seven appearances he gave up somewhere between 30 and 40 runs about a gazillion hits, more walks than strike outs and if he was on the Yankees or Red Sox squad he never would have seen the likes of a major league ball park.

His name, Zack Greinke. I rest my case.

Johan Santana is still one of the five best pitchers in baseball. The triumvirate of Mike Pelfrey, Ollie Perez, and John Maine can very well win 45 games between them and Jon Niese who may have one of the best curve balls seen in years in Queens can be a true ace in years to come.

David Wright has hit half as many home runs in 5 weeks this spring than he did in the entire 2009 season. Wright is right again and despite his .300+ average last year he very well may win the comeback player of the year after all.

Jason Bey has been nothing short of excellent this spring and is coming on strong as Monday's opener nears. He's hit 4 homers which were flat out bombs, four doubles,10 rbi's and an awesome .414 OBP and an even more impressive .673 slugging percentage.

Now the naysayers out there are probably saying "sure you can discount the crappy pitching but you throw positive offensive stats out there at the same time. Sounds like hypocrisy to me". Actually it's not, because over the years hitters with a good spring usually carry that over into the season while pitchers do not simply because they are not throwing their game pitches most of the time. Again, Zack Greinke.

Now all of a sudden the Mets fans favorite whipping boy, Daniel Murphy, is out from 2-6 weeks with a sprained MCL. "Bring up Ike Davis now" they say, but this time, for a change, the organization is not making a rash, impulsive wrong decision. They got Mike Jacobs in the off season and all he did today was slam two HR's. Fernando Tatis will serve as Jacobs backup until Murphy returns while Davis will get his valuable ab's in AAA where he belongs.

Here's the deal from Vegas Rich.

Reyes will be back by week two. Expect to see Carlos Beltran no later than May 20th. Don't be surprised to see Angel Pagan leading the National League in hitting by May 1st. Watch Gary Matthews Jr fill in for both Pagan and Jeff Franceuor and be effective off the bench. See Rueben Tejada make at least one fine defensive play each game that Alex Cora wouldn't have a shot at. Get excited about observing a Frankie Rodriguez looking like the best closer in the game and here's the best yet, and I'm going to get slammed with this prediction.

Be prepared to witness the first no run, no hit game to ever to be pitched by a New York Met in it's team history. It won't be Johan Santana either.

Let's Go Mets and let' get those fair weather fans to close their pie holes once and for all.